In my opinion, there are 3 elements that can make or break a nurse’s 12 hour shift; the behaviors of his/her patients, the neediness of their family members and the overall health and well-being of the nurse. I have been a nurse for almost 10 years and have finally come to a place in my career where I can say that 90% of my shifts are relatively stress free. I attribute this stress free nurse life to a few things; working night shift, sleeping plenty, not taking things personal, and developing certain routines that I can apply to all of my patients; because working nights and sleeping may not be an option for some of you, I have developed a few “nurse life hacks” that everyone can incorporate into their daily nursing lives.
The number 1 priority to improving your nursing life is to prepare yourself for a long day’s work:
- Buy enough groceries and cook enough food to last you for all of your shifts. You will be eating leftovers for 3 days but I guarantee it will be healthier and cheaper than buying food at work.
- Eat long acting carbohydrate foods such as fruit, vegetables, brown rice, beans, whole grain breads and sweet potatoes while at work to prevent from hitting that dreaded 3 o’clock wall. This is especially important for night shift workers.
- Make sure you eat throughout your shift. Take 5 or 10 minutes in the morning and evening time to grab a quick healthy snack. This will help keep your blood sugar steady and you feeling good throughout the day.
- Fill your water bottle before you get report so you don’t find yourself taking your first drink of water at lunchtime.
- When you get home from work stick your whole lunch bag, Tupperware and all, into the refrigerator; this way you don’t have to wash any dishes. You can just refill your Tupperware with the same exact food you had in it the day before.
- If you are having a hard time with the night shift schedule, try working 1 night, taking the next night off and then finishing your last 2 shifts or vice versa. You will find that you have more time for the gym, sleeping or whatever else you do on your time off.
Taking care of patients with certain diagnoses can be a challenge some days. Developing a routine on how you approach these patients will improve the quality of your life and the patients all at the same time.
- For patients dealing with pain, I recommend setting up a pain schedule immediately upon introduction. If it is a chronic pain patient make sure you tell them exactly what you will be giving them and when. Write it down on the whiteboard and stick to the schedule. As long as they know you are coming with their Dilaudid they won’t call you every 5 minutes. For regular patients with pain, ask them what they take at home and if they would like to be woken up for a pain assessment. Remind them to not let the pain get out of control.
- If you have a restless patient, try giving them Tylenol and a bath before bed. I have found that this combo helps people sleep.
- For your unruly alcoholic patient who needs sublingual Zyprexa, get a mouth swab wet, stick the Zyprexa to the swab and insert into patient’s mouth. This prevents any unnecessary biting.
- If you work in the ICU, a good way to remember which drips require a weight with calculation, you can think of the 3 D’s; Dopamine, Dobutamine and Diprovan.
- Do hourly rounds. I’m sure you have heard this from administration and you find it really annoying but trust me it works. Peaking your head into your patient’s rooms every hour, and if they are awake, asking them if they need to go to the bathroom or need anything else, prevents falls and call lights.
- Chart at the bedside as much as possible so you don’t forget anything and you refrain from using your body as a notepad.
- Make a plan with your CNA at the beginning of your shift, especially, if you have total care patients. Talk about your turning schedule and when you will be bathing them.
As far as patient’s family members go:
- Keep your patients looking clean and comfortable. Nobody wants to see their loved one all disheveled or with blood on their sheets. Put a sheet over them regardless of their temperature. Modesty is important to most people.
- Take 2 minutes at the beginning of your shift to introduce yourself and discuss the plan for the night. Most family members will go home once they know their loved one is in good hands.
- Be open to answering questions no matter how trivial they seem to be. Family members like to be involved and know that you have the patience to teach them.
- Fill out the whiteboard with all of the answers to questions that someone might ask. Even if your patient is incapacitated, the family can still read.
- Keep the room clean.
Learning tricks on how to insert foley catheters and NG tubes is an interesting and important part of nursing, however, I believe in the larger scheme of things, establishing a routine in your daily nursing life is a much more effective way to save time and energy. Establishing a routine will not only greatly improve your job satisfaction but will also help improve the quality of life of your patients and their families. As far as learning how to not take things personally, I think the Serenity prayer just about sums it up: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.” There will be people in your personal and professional lives who just don’t care that much about themselves or their situations and there is nothing you can do to change that. All you can do is accept them for who they are and treat them with kindness.